The Centrality of Christ

The Centrality of Christ

The Centrality of Christ
Text: 2 Peter 1:1–2

Main Idea: The Christian’s greatest safeguard against error is an ever-increasing knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

Sermon Outline:

I.  2 Peter’s So-Called “Baggage”

II. Peter’s Salutation (2 Peter 1:1–2)

A. An Authority Anchored in the Person of Christ (1:1a)
B. An Equality Grounded in the Work of Christ (1:1b)
C. A Stability Rooted in the Knowledge of Christ (1:2)

Good morning church. As we turn the page from 1 Peter to 2 Peter in our Bibles today, we are turning from a book that is dedicated to external threats against the church to a book that is focused like a laser-beam on threats inside the church. And in this transition Peter wants Christians of every generation to realize that our greatest threat is not the angry, red-faced attacks of unbelievers outside the church BUT counterfeit Christians peddling false doctrine inside the church.

But, why? Why are the greatest threats on the inside? Well, it’s because doctrinal error always erodes our understanding of and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. As A.W. Tozer warned the American church 60 years ago in his little book, The Knowledge of the Holy:[1]

Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with its worship AND its moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere, there must be a corrupting of its simple basic theology. It simple gets a wrong answer to the question, “What is God like?” and goes on from here. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.

Friends, the Church can survive and even thrive under the most oppressive and ungodly governments known to man. But, if the Church allows it’s people to dabble in and promote false doctrine it is actively contributing to its own destruction. And the truth of the matter is that you and I are under increasing pressure to let this very thing happen in the name of inclusion, acceptance, and theological graciousness. After all, who are we to judge what other Christians believe. Right? Well, Peter is going to tell us that we have every right to judge the so-called servants and followers of God by the infallible and authoritative Word of God.

Yet, before we turn to the book of 2 Peter itself this morning, we need to address its… baggage. What I mean by this, is that 2 Peter is one of the most questioned and neglected books in the entire NT.

2 Peter’s So-Called Baggage

A Checkered Past

See the problems with 2 Peter begin with the fact that this letter didn’t have the kind of broad geographic circulation that other NT letters had. And as a result many Christians didn’t know that 2 Peter even existed until the early years of the second-century AD— well-after Peter’s death. And to make matters worse, it was a time in which people were attaching Peter’s name to their, less than orthodox, religious works. But, as ancient scholars studied the book for almost 2-centuries, it’s unity and message and orthodoxy eventually compelled them to affirm its authority and Canonicity at the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D.

Now, we might think that this would have settled the question, like the Council of Nicaea settled the question of Jesus’ deity, but it didn’t. During the Reformation, eleven-hundred years later, the book of 2 Peter encountered a new round of challenges.

It was demoted to second-class Scripture by Luther, rejected by Erasmus, and accepted with significant hesitancy by Calvin.

And if you turn to any modern commentary, you will find the front-matter jam-packed a with detailed discussion of the so-called “problems”… Which is why I want to take a few minutes to address the primary concern: “Did Peter write this letter or did someone else write it in his name?”

The Question of Authorship

One of the primary reasons that people wonder if Peter wrote this second letter is that 1 Peter and 2 Peter are very different books.

The Greek in 1 Peter is more polished that in 2 Peter. And the subject matter is very different as well: where the first book focuses on suffering and the 2nd coming of Christ, the second book focuses on Christian ethics and the “knowledge” of Christ. In fact, this focus on “knowledge” leads some to believe that the book is attacking 2nd-century Gnosticism. And if this is the case, Peter could not have written the book because he died sometime before 68 A.D.

The second “problem” is that many of the words, phrases, and ideas of 2 Peter occur in the book of Jude. Yet, for all of their work, scholars cannot determine which was written first or if the two books were developed from a common source.

Sounds kind of sketchy, right? Well, thankfully there are a number of scholars that have poured their life into this book and who make strong arguments for the full acceptance of this book. (See especially, Tom Schreiner and Michael Green)

Helpful Answers

One, while it’s true that 2 Peter and Jude are very similar, it is not an indication that one is a forgery. All we have to do is look at the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It has been well established that the Gospel authors used each other’s’ works and maybe even used a common source document, but that has not caused us to question their place in Scripture. In light of this, the dependency of these two books should not cause us to disregard them as Scripture.

Two, if we simply read 1st and 2nd Peter, the books themselves provide us with reasonable answers for the difference in grammar and content.

Regarding the grammar: In 1 Peter 5:12, Peter tells us that he wrote the letter through his “secretary” Sylvanus. Therefore, it is reasonable to propose that the key difference between the books is that 1 Peter had a gifted scribe and that 2 Peter did not. In addition to this, Peter knows that his death is imminent and he is trying to write one final letter before he dies; whether that be days, weeks, months we don’t know.

Regarding the content: If we follow Peter’s concerns in the two letters, we are able to see that the difference between 1 and 2 Peter is driven by the need: oppression from without and false teaching within.[2]

Finally, the Dead Sea Scrolls give us good reason to believe that Peter wrote this book shortly before his death, in that, archeologists have discovered a very early fragment of The Gospel of Mark and a likely fragment of 2 Peter in a cave that was sealed in 68 A.D.[3] And if this is the case, it gives significant support to Peter’s authorship, especially since the Gospel of Mark contains Peter’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry.

I want you to take away two things from this: (1) The case against this book is not as strong as it looks. (2) We have a number of reasons to embrace this book as God’s inspired word through the apostle Peter.

But, this still leaves us with two final questions: Who is he writing to? And what is the main point of the book? We won’t take nearly as long with these questions, because we still need to get to the text itself.

His Audience 

Well, Peter doesn’t clearly tell us who he is writing to. But, we have a possible clue in the text.

2 Peter 3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder.

In light of this verse, it seems reasonable to conclude, with a number of scholars, that that Peter is most likely writing to the same group of churches that he wrote to in his first letter “the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1). If so, he is writing to Gentile Christians living under Roman rule in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).[4]

His Main Point: Why

Main Point: The Christian’s greatest safeguard against error is an ever-increasing knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 3:17–18 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

2 Peter 1:1–2 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Peter’s Salutation (1 Peter 1:1–2)

Now, I realize it’s easy to skip past the opening lines in a book so that we can dig into the content. But, these opening lines are incredibly important, in that, Peter is going out of his way to emphasize the centrality of Christ in regards to himself, his audience, and his overall hope for their Christian life.

  • His authority is firmly anchored in the person of Christ.
  • His audience is equality grounded in the Work of Christ.
  • His audience’s stability is rooted in their pursuit of Christ.

An Authority Anchored in the Person of Christ (2 Peter 1:1a)

Notice here that Peter wants to tell us two things about himself and that both of these things have to do with his relationship to Jesus Christ. He is a servant of Christ and he is an apostle of Christ.

A SERVANT: Now, when we hear the word “servant” it’s easy to quickly picture the well-mannered butlers and maids in Downton Abbey. But, that is not the picture that Peter has in mind. And we know this because he describes himself with the Greek word for “slave” (δοῦλος) not “servant.”[5] And this is an important distinction because the 1st-Century Rome, the most basic division in society was between slave and free. And in this context, a slave was nothing more than a “human tool” that belonged to and was controlled by their human “lord” (κύριος).

In light of this, we can see that in this word “slave,” Peter is declaring his total allegiance to Christ. He is not his own; he belongs to and lives for the purposes and the glory of Christ alone.

And what is this purpose? He is an “apostle” of Jesus Christ.

AN APOSTLE: Now, if we look up the word “apostle” in our Greek dictionary it tells us that this word refers to “someone who is sent out”… a messenger. But an apostle is not just an ordinary messenger, like the office messengers who sort the mail and deliver parcels and documents to clients. No! An “apostle” is someone who has been handpicked to serve as an authoritative spokesman for a higher authority.

See in both of these terms Peter is emphasizing his divine commission and authority as the very mouthpiece of Jesus Christ— he is not just sharing his opinion he is declaring the word of God himself. And he is pointing this out in the very first line of his letter, because he is going to war against the heretical teaching of counterfeit Christians in the local church.

Now at this point we might expect Peter to leverage his position for his self-interest by setting himself above his readers. After all, he is declaring a message from Jesus himself. But, he doesn’t! Rather he turns to his audience and declares that every single Christian has “a faith of equal standing” in Jesus Christ.[6]

An Equality Grounded in the Work of Christ (2 Peter 1:1b)

Now, we could just note this and move on. But, the divinely appointed mouthpiece of Jesus Christ emphasizes this spiritual equality two different ways.

First of all, in the word “obtained”: “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing.” Peter is pointing his readers to the most basic reason that we have an equal standing in Christ. What I mean by this is that this word is only used three other times in the NT and in each case it refers to something received by lot NOT by personal effort or merit (Luke 1:9; John 19:24; Acts 1:17).

See, in the very word “obtained” Peter is pointing his readers to the utter, nonsensical futility of human boasting or attempts to set ourselves above any other believer. If faith is a gift of God there is no place for spiritual arrogance or elitism in the Church of God![7]

The second way that Peter emphasizes our equal standing in Christ, is by pointing his readers to the ego-crushing truth that every single Christian stands in the impeccable righteousness of Jesus Christ, not their personal efforts, their record of Christian service, or their theological acumen. After all, how did you and I and Peter “obtain” this righteousness? We “obtained” it the very same way: through Jesus’ undeserved gift of faith.

Ephesians 2:8–9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Titus 3:4–7 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

But there is something about this equality that we can overlook as modern Christians. Peter is a Jew and he is most likely writing to a scattered group of Gentile Christians. And in this he is addressing one of the most common questions in the early church: “Does God love and accept Gentile Christians in the same way the he loves and accepts Jewish Christians?” And the resounding is YES he loves and accepts them the very same way BECAUSE he saved them the very same way! The ground is level at the cross.

Romans 3:21–24 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

And this is important from the very beginning of the letter because the counterfeit Christians in these churches were trying to lord their supposed authority over their fellow church members. Yet, for all of Peter’s rightful authority in Christ, what does he do? He bends over backward to serve them as an equal in Christ. And he does this because he is serving their best interest in Christ, in that, he desperately wants them to enjoy the true, lasting, life-changing benefits of their salvation in Jesus Christ.

A Stability Rooted in the Knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 2:2)

Now, it’s easy to write off this little verse as a boiler-plate greeting. But it’s not! Peter pointing us toward his goal in writing this letter. He wants his readers to grow in “grace and peace” which is first-century shorthand for: “Churches I am praying that you would continue to mature and grow up in your Christian faith.

But, notice where does this stability and growth come from? Do we find it in ourselves? Do we find it in other people? No! We find it in one place: we find it in an ever-increasing “knowledge” of Jesus Christ. In fact, as we read through this book we are going to quickly discover that “growing in knowledge” is a fundamental key to entire letter. Yet, this “knowing” is not an purely intellectual OR academic pursuit. Does it involve our thinking, understanding, and knowledge? Yes! But, it’s so much more.

Throughout the Bible, “knowing” is a very personal activity. The Old Testament writers use the word to describe the intimate relationship between one person and another, and often use is as euphemism for sexual relations. In light of this, when Peter points us to “the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,” in verse 2; he is telling us that the only we will enjoy “grace and peace in abundance” is if we grow in our relationship with God.[8]

Two Implications

The true nature of spiritual leadership. Because, Peter is showing us how a true servant of God serves God’s people. Just think about the broad range of people who are claiming to speak for Christ in our world today. What do they base their authority on? Their visions, their spiritual experiences, their gifts, their knowledge, their so-called apostleship? Do they cultivate a culture of needy dependency in which their followers are encouraged to trust and venerate their pastor and his teaching instead of treasuring Christ and his Word?

Even more, as Peter will point out later in the book, what does their teaching and lifestyles reveal? Are they promoting the kind of gospel-centered maturity through which people grow into the likeness of Christ OR are they promoting a false gospel that promotes a lifestyle of sinful self-centeredness?

Don’t miss this, in everything Peter is pointing us to Jesus NOT his personal experiences with Jesus or his privileged role as an apostle of Jesus. And in this he is showing us how a true servant of God interacts with the people of God.

The goal of Christian study. Just think about it, why do we devote so much effort to the study of God’s Word here at Olympic? Why do we encourage you to spend time in God’s Word each day? Why did we spend last year to studying systematic theology in adult Sunday School or the year before tracing the story of redemption from Genesis through the Gospels? Why are we currently studying a book on Christian sanctification?

We are not doing it to simply master the content of God’s Word. NO. There are countless scholars that study God’s Word as an interesting piece of ancient literature. Nothing more. They love the Bible and write technical monographs on books of the Bible BUT they do not love or even believe in the God of the Bible.

We spend all of this time in God’s Word, because we want to be mastered by God’s Word. Because we know that it is impossible to grow in “grace and peace” apart from growing in our knowledge and understanding of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Don’t miss this, our goal in this is not to simply grow in propositional truth and doctrinal accuracy, but to grow in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ! And as we begin to see him for who he has revealed himself to be in the Bible, how he relates to his people, and what he promises to do for them; we will begin to grow in our trust and love and joy and delight in him. And as this happens we will be increasingly conformed into the very likeness of Christ because our happiness and satisfaction in him will compel us to pursue the kind of life change that magnifies his true worth.

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 1961.

[2] Michael P. Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 51–56.

[3] “The papyrus fragment 7Q5, discovered in this cave [#7] which was sealed in ad 68, appears to be a part of St Mark’s Gospel, comprising verses 52–53 of chapter 6. Papyrologists, including C. H. Roberts, have dated this fragment to around ad 50. But 7Q10, found in the same cave, (a tiny scrap of only 2 centimeters), has on it six letters (belonging to two lines) which could come only from 2 Peter 1:15 if they derive from the New Testament at all. The evidence is highly precarious at this stage, but if 7Q5 is indeed part of Mark’s Gospel, as it may well be, there is no good reason why 7Q10 should not also be a New Testament fragment, and why it should not come from 2 Peter. ;” (Michael P. Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, 23).

[4] Dieudonne Tamfu, 2 Peter and Jude, ed. Samuel Ngewa, Africa Bible Commentary (HippoBooks, 2018), 11. Gene L. Green, Jude and 2 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 173. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 49.

[5] Developed from: Green, Jude and 2 Peter, 173; Tamfu, 2 Peter and Jude, 9.

[6] Matthew S. Harmon, “2 Peter,” in Hebrews–Revelation, ESV Expository Commentary, ed. Iain M Duguid, James M Hamilton, and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 370.

[7] “The rare verb rendered “obtained” (lanchanō) suggests that the divine will stands behind what is received (Luke 1:9; Acts 1:17);” (Harmon, “2 Peter,” 370). See also comments in: Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 285.

[8] Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 38.